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The Mail’s leaving present

02 November 2012

Hatchet-job: Martin Bashir in the Daily Mail

Hatchet-job: Martin Bashir in the Daily Mail

I BLAME the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). All of the papers had pieces ready for when the new Archbishop of Canterbury was announced, but the peg for them recedes into the future. There were rumours both that the CNC had met last week, and that it would meet on Monday this week. The excitement was clearly too much for the Daily Mail, which could delay no longer Martin Bashir's ejaculation on the comment pages. He did not ask whether this was the worst Archbishop of Canterbury ever: he merely asserted that Dr Williams had produced "the most foggy and frustrating presentation of the Christian faith we've probably ever heard from such a senior cleric".

This is a little bit kinder than the kicking off that the Mail had me write about Lord Carey, but it is not very kind.

The Mail's recurrent complaint against the clergy is that they refuse to preach Mail editorials, preferring some nonsense of their own about love and heaven. Bashir adds a specific twist: not only is Dr Williams guilty of ambiguity: he also refused to give interviews on television. In particular, he wouldn't give an interview to Bashir, thereby forfeiting his chance to exercise spiritual leadership.

This makes sense when you remember that, if you work in television, nothing is real or important unless it happens on a screen, and nothing is really important unless it is on the bit of television that you yourself run. So Bashir explains that.

"When it was announced that Prince William and Kate Middleton were engaged, journalists around the world requested an interview with the Archbishop. It seemed a perfect opportunity for him to present the case for Christian marriage.

"The wedding would be a joyful occasion for the entire Commonwealth, and there would be no need to sidestep any ecclesiastical/political landmines. How could he miss such an open goal?"

Perhaps because he felt that this was a job for the wedding sermon, watched by tens of millions around the world. Perhaps because he is stupendously bad at interviews unless he feels fairly confident in his interviewer. And even then, things can turn out wrong. Had he not been confident that his old pupil Christopher Landau understood him, he would not have said that thing he did about sharia.

Bashir went on to say that the Archbishop had avoided the opportunity to present "a rational case for Christianity".

"A perfect opportunity would have been to appear on BBC2's Newsnight on the evening of the royal wedding. But he didn't take the chance. Having covered the wedding for the American network NBC News, I was invited to appear on Newsnight. The discussion focused on issues such as the Duchess's dazzling dress, the modernisation of monarchy and the future for Prince Charles.

"But no one mentioned the ceremony's religious importance. No one was inclined to discuss the vows that William and his bride had made before God and the nation as a whole. Such thoughts were conspicuous by their absence. As the programme proceeded, I decided to throw in my two-penneth worth about this omission.

"My intervention was commented upon in an article in The Guardian headlined: 'The royal wedding was a religious ceremony. Why won't the media face up to this fact? Why won't the Church of England?'"

Bashir was, in fact, careful and measured in his discussion of the great sharia catastrophe; so it was a little hard to see what exactly the Archbishop had then said wrong, but at least he was perfectly clear about the importance of Bashir in our national life.

One further oddity. The piece was beefed up at the end by a truly memorable quote: "One churchman observed: 'He proudly wears a Druid cassock, but will not wear the 'breastplate of righteousness' that the Apostle Paul describes in the New Testament." Yet these words appear nowhere else in a Google search. God forbid that they should have been made up by a desperate sub in the Mail's office. There must be someone outside the Mail's office who still talks like that, if only in The English Churchman, or Christian Voice.

THE Mail also had coverage of one of the most wholly wicked religious stories I can ever remember: the trial in Canterbury of the leader of a group of Nigerian slavers who threatened their victims with supernatural punishment: "One girl had hair cut from her armpits by a man wearing feathers. Others were slashed with knives, forced to drink foul-smelling potions and had blood taken with syringes to 'cast a spell' over them.

"The girls were told they would die or never bear children if they tried to escape or revealed what had happened to them."

Perhaps the only uplifting part of the story is the way in which the papers have carefully avoided collective blame for one gang's crimes. This is not the way they traditionally handle stories of child abuse - yet I don't know of any story of Roman Catholic child abuse which compares to this in horror.

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